When Jerrickson Hosteen performs basketball tricks in front of a crowd, he subconsciously does it.
Whether it’s balancing five spinning basketballs on his body all at once, dribbling three basketballs, or rolling a basketball across his upper body, Hosteen, 33, can practically perform these tricks with his eyes closed.
But when he’s performing, he’s focused mainly on the crowd.
“Everything happens subconsciously,” said Hosteen, who’s from Ni’iijíhí Hasání, Arizona.
“I don’t really think about the basketball tricks because I’m more than 100% confident that I’ll perform all the basketball tricks,” he said.
Hosteen’s former manager dubbed him “the first Native professional basketball entertainer.”
He was thriving in his career, but the threat of the coronavirus canceled his work and bookings. His life, which included traveling across the U.S. to perform at school assemblies and halftime shows, was upended.
But Hosteen found a way to stay busy. He made videos for his channel on YouTube and beckoned the masses.
He also sold merchandise for Endemik Exchange, a Native-owned clothing company in Albuquerque, during the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And for about a year, he didn’t pick up a basketball, even for self-preservation.
Hosteen said forcing to adapt to the pandemic – trading traditional in-person performances for virtual shows – was particularly jarring. Doing virtual shows isn’t his cup of tea because freestyle basketball entertainment is best experienced in person.
Because COVID-19, measured in illness and mortality, has greatly subsided, Hosteen is gradually returning to work. And to start the year, he’ll be touring the country with the Flight Squad, a premier exhibition basketball team, for two months.
This team comprises former professional athletes and NCAA Division I players who’ve played in the U.S. and internationally.
Hosteen, a Window Rock High alumnus, is the only Native American on the team.
He is the son of Jefferson and Dorothy Hosteen. He is Tótsohníí, born for Kiyaa’áanii. His maternal grandfather is Tábąąhá, and his paternal grandfather is Bįįh Bitoodnii.
Flight Squad provides entertainment in family-friendly environments such as school assemblies, All-Star events, halftime shows, full-court games, basketball summer camps, among a list of others.
It gives people – who may not have the resources or accessibility to attend an NBA game – the opportunity to enjoy a pro-level basketball game.
“It’s similar to the Harlem Globetrotters,” explained Hosteen, whose job on the team is to perform for a couple of minutes during each quarter.
He’ll be doing interactive games and creating skits with the audience. He’ll also perform basketball tricks during halftime shows.
Hosteen signed with the Flight Squad more than two years ago, in 2019, and toured the East Coast with the team.
“Now, we’re working on the second season of the tour,” he said. “It’s going to start the week of March 5 until the end of May.”
The Flight Squad team will visit Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. Hosteen said the team would make its way up north after visiting the Golden State.
Hosteen said he connected with the Flight Squad through his friend Corey Sanders, who once played with the Court Kingz streetball team and did presentations across Diné Bikéyah in 2017.
When the owner of Flight Squad, Doron Lowe, asked Sanders if he knew of any basketball tricksters, he mentioned Hosteen.
“(Lowe) called me up and asked me if I wanted to tour with (Flight Squad),” Hosteen said. “I agreed, and everything went pretty good.”
Hosteen became interested in basketball showman tricks in the early 2000s when he was a teenager. He watched the AND1 streetball team and its ballhandling skills and basketball moves.
“I started doing basketball tricks,” Hosteen said. “From 2003 to 2006, I really worked on my ball handling and different dribbles and tricks.”
After that, though, he didn’t pick up his basketball for two years until 2008 and relearned what he had taught himself.
“I wanted to add arm-rolls, working with one basketball, and challenging myself,” Hosteen said. “I started performing with two basketballs, then three, and it all grew from there.
“I started practicing and doing opening (acts) for James and Ernie Comedy at community events and at casinos,” he said.
At first, Hosteen would perform only basketball tricks and didn’t offer inspirational speeches or comedy. It wasn’t until Ernie, or Ernest Tsosie III, became his mentor that he added comedy and crowd interaction to his performances.
“Throughout the years, it (Tsosie’s mentorship) molded me into my presentation, what it is right now,” Hosteen explained. “For two years, I performed and did openings for James and Ernie Comedy.
“Within those two years, everything came together as far as (inspirational) speeches, skits, jokes, and I even had to take public-speaking classes,” Hosteen said. “From 2010 to now, I’ve been doing it professionally.”
Hosteen said he’s traveled over the Navajo Nation and visited 32 states and 123 Native nations. He was featured as a basketball entertainer, and juggler on NBC’s America’s Got Talent in 2011 and in 2013.
His career includes a stint as an entertainer on the Harlem Superstars comedy basketball team. He also performed a couple of halftime shows for the Harlem Globetrotters.
Hosteen said he’s super excited to be allowed to tour with the Flight Squad.
“It’s only me when I perform,” Hosteen said. “And it’s pretty cool to hang out with other individuals – Division 1 players and professional dunkers – who do basketball tricks. It’s cool to hang out with people who love what you do.
“Just to be around that type of environment where it’s basketball, basketball, basketball every single day,” Hosteen said. “So, I’m super excited. Especially when I got the call from (Lowe) and said, ‘We’re going back on tour! I need you to get ready.’”
To prepare for the tour, Hosteen said he’s sharpening up his basketball skis and learning new tricks, one of which is a three-ball dribble.
He said because of COVID-19 and focusing on making videos for his YouTube channel, his skills slightly wasted away, and he’s working on that with practice every day.
“Within that year, I didn’t pick up a basketball, and I tried it again. I felt like I needed to practice,” Hosteen said. “All the muscle memory came back from juggling.”
Hosteen said he takes his basketball everywhere he goes, even when he’s not practicing.
“I mainly do it to feel for it,” he said. “I do it just work on that feel. Driving – it’s beside me. I have four basketballs.”
He added that he used to talk to his basketballs before a show at the beginning of his career.
“Well, it’s time for us to go out there and perform,” he’d tell the basketballs, “Let’s do this.”
“Yeah, they’re friends,” he added.